Oyster Picnic at Hog Island

 

I am extremely lucky to have a good number of adventurous, food-loving friends who think nothing of dropping everything to travel hundreds or thousands of miles for the promise of good grub.

Kerry drove through a blinding blizzard in Vermont once to get us to Montreal for beer and poutine. Leslie orchestrated a trip to Memphis just so we could ride her coattails through the Memphis in May barbecue championships. And Ku? Ku guided five adults and a cranky toddler through several neighborhoods in Beijing so that we could try authentic hot pot before heading back to the U.S. Stressful? Nah, they live for this stuff, and it’s my luck to sometimes get to come along for the ride.

This is how, on a rainy Sunday in November, I found myself spreading old newspapers on a damp picnic table at the edge of a sandy spit jutting out into Tomales Bay, California. We were at Hog Island, and we were ready to eat some oysters.

View of the flats at low tide

How did we get here? My intrepid friend Kerry, the aforementioned beer-loving snow driver, began planning this picnic as soon as we’d finalized plans to meet at my mom’s place in Northern California for Thanksgiving. Kerry also loves oysters, and Hog Island is one of the most renowned local purveyors of the briny bivalves. They also have a very cool picnic area at their Marshall farm, where you can buy oysters straight from their beds to eat raw or cook up on the grill. The Hog Island folks provide shucking knives, lemons, a delicious mignonette called “Hog Wash,” and sell wine, beer, and assorted other snacks from an upended boat-turned-snack bar. What more could you ask for on a winter’s afternoon?

There was the matter of the rain – pounding down in sheets as we meandered up Highway 1 – but we were undeterred. After a quick stop  in Point Reyes for some dried fruit at Toby’s Feed Barn and delectable Mt. Tam triple cream cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, we tooled up the road, parked on the shoulder, and hauled our goodies – including a magnum of bubbly, a given with the menu and the presence of the Diva – to a table facing the bay, breathtaking even in the fog.

Our picnic.

 Once we got things set out and picked up three dozen Hog Island Sweetwaters and a dozen Kumamotos, we got down to the serious business of shucking. Luckily, Carl is a former professional, and Kerry, Sean, and the Diva were quick learners. I acted as supervisor and cocktail waitress.

Sean: shucking is serious business.

 

Carl shows Diva Armida how it's done

After a while, the picnic area filled up with other groups celebrating birthdays, early Thanksgiving, and generally having a fun time. The sun came out and the whole place took on the air of a great big oyster hoedown, helped along with numerous bottles of wine and the good cheer of our hosts and fellow picnickers.  As we discarded our trays of shells and packed up to head back across the county, full of oysters and smiles, I was once again reminded that good friends – and good food – are worth more than gold.  
 

No sun? No problem! Happy picnickers in front of "The Boat"

 

Aftermath of a great afternoon

 
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